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The Sustainable Development Goals: Make it your business

published on
April 4, 2024

Time to step-up our game

Last year, secretary general of the United Nations Antonio Gutierrez issued a stark warning regarding the progress on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. As we approach the mid-way point of the decade, we find that progress on more than 50 per cent of targets of the SDGs is weak and insufficient; on 30 percent, it has stalled or gone into reverse. Particularly the SDGs directly related to nature, Goal 14: Life Below Water, and Goal 15: Life on Land are in peril. A Rescue Plan for people and the planet is in the works based on a global alliance for SDG action and acceleration by all stakeholders. Businesses have a key role to play. 

Boosting positive impact for the planet and business

For businesses it’s simply not enough to reduce negative impacts, any sustainability strategy needs to encompass positive impact towards the SDGs. The good news: companies that deeply integrate the SDGs into their operations and communications reap direct commercial benefits.

Research by PwC indicates that 78% of citizens are more likely to buy from companies that have committed to the SDGs agenda. Therefore, aligning marketing efforts with an SDG-based positive impact strategy is a powerful tool to connect with customers on a deeper level, creating direct business value;

  • Attract New Customers: Today's consumers, particularly millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly purpose-driven. They actively seek out companies that align with their values. By weaving the SDGs into your brand narrative, you resonate with this growing demographic passionate about leaving a better world.
  • Enhanced Reputation: Consumers are bombarded with marketing messages. By showcasing your commitment to the SDGs, you differentiate and stand out from the competition. Highlighting your sustainable practices demonstrates that you care about the same issues your customers do, building trust and a positive brand image.
  • Foster Loyalty: People are more likely to be loyal to brands they feel a connection with. When you continuously demonstrate your commitment to the SDGs and broadcast updates across your channels (website, socials, newsletters, email campaigns, influencer partnerships and more), you show existing customers that you share their values. This fosters a sense of community and strengthens customer loyalty, encouraging repeat business and positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Gearing up the commitments

Companies are already engaging with and making contributions to the SDGs, but on the whole, that engagement is not as strategic and transformative as it needs to be. According to an analysis by the UN Global Compact, many companies themselves recognize these insufficiencies, with only 39% of companies saying they have targets they believe are sufficiently ambitious, science-based and/or align with societal needs.

If the private sector wants to be serious about progress towards the SDGs, then businesses need to ensure their efforts go beyond marketing and reporting on some of their activities related to the SDGs, to stepping up their commitments and making a significant step-change in positive impact across their entire business. Change needs to occur not just in the easiest and simplest of places, but in the most strategic and impactful of places, including value chains and business models. And businesses need to lend their voice, authority, and resources to meaningful collaboration and collective action to have impacts beyond their own company. To do that, it also means shifting the fundamental purpose of business from shareholder primacy to stakeholder governance, where businesses are not only taking on sustainability initiatives insofar as they enhance their value to shareholders, but are actually required to take into consideration impacts on stakeholders in their decision-making. 

Leading the charge with bold action

Businesses need to lead the charge towards 20230, and leading requires taking big, bold action on the SDGs across the entire business landscape. Other stakeholders of businesses, such as regulators, consumers, and employees, should similarly work to enable the bold actions that will increase our chances of achieving the SDGs. To finish with the words of the secretary general: “We are at a moment of truth and reckoning. But together, we can make this a moment of hope.”

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